Why Graduate School?
Posted by Joseph Phillips, Jr. on Saturday, October 22, 2011 at 11:44 AM PDT
The College Success Foundation (CSF) helps low income and underserved students to graduate from college and succeed in life. The foundation does great work, and many SU students and alumni have benefitted from their assistance.
On October 22nd CSF hosted its students and alumni on the SU campus to explore attending graduate and professional school. CSF asked me to talk to students about why they should consider going on for that next degree. Here are some of the things I told them:
The first thing to know is that graduate or professional school is going to be a lot of work and it will be more focused than a traditional undergraduate degree. Therefore, it is important to have a passion for what you choose to study.
One of the negatives about attending graduate school is the opportunity cost involved. Namely, while you are going to school, you are not in the workforce earning income. Of course, there are many programs designed for people to go to school and work full time at the same time, what we call part time programs. For example, virtually all of the graduate programs at Seattle University are programs that work that way.
Of course, there is a price to pay with these programs in terms of not having as much time for family and recreation for the two or three or four years of your study. Yet many, many students have successfully navigated that path and feel they made the right decision.
Most people know how an undergraduate degree boosts employment prospects as well as income. So for example, in 2010 the unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma averaged 10.3% compared to 5.4% for people with bachelor’s degrees. Median weekly earnings for people with a bachelor’s degree was over $1000 in 2010, compared to a bit over $600 for high school graduates.
The situation for people with master’s and professional degrees is striking. People with a master’s degree, any master’s degree, had an unemployment rate of 4% in 2010. Those with professional degrees had an unemployment rate of 2.4%, and those with doctoral degrees had an unemployment rate of 1.9%.
There is a similar impact on earnings. Those with doctoral and professional degrees had weekly earnings 50 and 60% higher than those with bachelor’s degrees, respectively. Master’s degree holders earned about 25% more.
Another way to look at this is to look at estimates of life time earnings from the US Census Bureau. Depending on your race and gender, the increase in life time earnings of a master’s degree over a bachelor’s degree ranges from 16 to 34%. For a professional degree from 37 to 67% , and for a Doctoral degree between 30% to 55%.
Let’s look at the numbers for Hispanic males – high school lifetime earnings are about $1.31 million, undergrad degree $2.1 million, master’s degree $2.8 million, and professional and doctoral degrees $3.1 million.
Money is not everything, so why else would you go on to get a higher degree? Researchers have suggested that it not money that really motivates people to do good work and be successful and enjoy going to work every day. People need a certain amount of income to live on and don’t want to feel taken advantage of. They do want to be paid for what they do, but that is not the real source of their satisfaction.
Daniel Pink has summarized the research into three things -- autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Autonomy means that we have control over our lives and our situation. You don’t want someone telling you want to do all the time. You want to be able to use your own good judgment. One would think that the more education you have, the easier it is to find a situation where you have autonomy, and that the organization where you work is going to trust you to do your job well.
Mastery means you want to be good at what you do. Well, doesn’t a graduate degree contribute to that?? Whatever it is you are passionate about, presumably more education makes you better at it and improves your skill set.
The final aspect is purpose, which means that you feel like you are doing really important work and the organization that you represent is involved in an important mission. I don’t think you need a graduate degree to achieve purpose, but it may make it easier to find because your education helps you find out about you. In other words, your graduate education allows you to find what your passion is, what is important to you, and what your core values are. This enables you to go out and find a situation where there is alignment with your values and passions.
A graduate degree can impact these three important non-monetary factors, not just your earnings power. These are compelling reasons to be thinking about that next degree!